Another in the occasional series on “Far-Flung Lost London” (following the footballing theme) …
West Ham was first recorded in 1186 as Westhamma, from the Old English “hamme”, meaning area of dry land bounded by water, and referring to its situation between the Rivers Lea, Roding and Thames (Ham was first recorded in 958 as Hamme).
The church of All Saints, also known as West Ham Parish Church, was originally built (or possibly rebuilt) in around 1180, and extended in the thirteenth century, and again in the fifteenth, when the tower was added, and yet again in the sixteenth, when the chapels were added. It was owned by Stratford Langthorne Abbey from 1334 until the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1538 (see below). Inside the church are some relics from the dissolved abbey, including a window, in the porch, and a carved stone from the charnel house, in the tower.
Stratford Langthorne Abbey
Stratford Langthorne Abbey, also known as the Abbey of St Mary Stratford Langthorne, was originally built as a Savigniac house in 1135, possibly on the site of an earlier, Saxo-Norman manorial centre and associated church, and was incorporated into the Cistercian order in 1147. It was subsequently rebuilt and extended at least twice, in around 1220; but also to have begun to stagnate in around 1350 – coincidentally or otherwise close to the time of the “Black Death” of 1348-9. It was finally dissolved in 1538, at which time it was still evidently a wealthy abbey, owning property in numerous parishes throughout London. After the dissolution, most of the buildings on the site were demolished (although the main gateway survived until the nineteenth century).
Archaeological excavations on the site, undertaken in conjunction with the construction of the extension to the Jubilee Line in 1973-94, revealed that the abbey church was comparable in size to that of Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire, founded at around the same time. The excavations also revealed 647 burials in the abbey cemetery, more than recorded in any other Cistercian site in Europe. Two of the skeletons exhibited broken arm and leg bones held together with metal plates, implying that the monks possessed considerable medical knowledge and skill. Many others, though, most notably those from the foundation of the abbey up to around 1220, exhibited untreated fractures, implying that the monks were generally unwilling to perform surgery – perhaps interpreting as a ban a Papal Decree issued by Boniface VIII after the Council of Tours in 1163 (“Eccelestia abhorret a sanguine” ).